Is it possible the college basketball season starts next week?
Time sure flies when your only outside interaction is with fellow dog walkers.
“Sorry, Murphy is very territorial,” is about all I can blurt out before he goes after the other pooch.
Anyway, back to roundball. Here are my thoughts on Brad Underwood’s team, the Big Ten and the rest after Wednesday’s reveal of an almost complete schedule for the most heavily anticipated Illini season since Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head, among others, almost won it all in 2005:
➜ 1. Looking for a magazine preview about the Illini? I wrote one for Athlon Sports, but because of COVID-19 and uncertainty about the season, it won’t be printed. The hope is the magazine returns in 2021. I don’t think we are too far from the kids asking “Dad, what were magazines?” Kinda sad not to have it around the house.
➜ 2. I didn’t really care when the schedule came out. Plenty of moaning is out there about how long it was taking. But my question: Why didn’t that bother you in the past? Basketball has traditionally been tardy in its schedule release. Why? My theory is basketball people are more chill than in other sports.
➜ 3. This time, there was an excuse. COVID-19 is the new “the sun got in my eyes” or “my dog ate my homework.” Lots of moving parts to put in place. Heck, I wouldn’t have minded if they told the teams, “Show up at this location sometime Friday.” Opponent TBA. Unless it’s the Lakers, the teams are pretty interchangeable.
➜ 4. I sure like what is known already about the Illinois nonconference schedule.
Duke always works. Sorry there won’t be fans at Cameron Indoor next month, but at least the Illini get a chance to play in the historic arena.
➜ 5. And No. 2 Baylor is a doozy. Reminds me of the 2004 game against Wake Forest. Let me go on a limb right now and predict an Illinois victory in Indianapolis. Don’t forget, you read it here first.
➜ 6. Baylor has a great team now, but it doesn’t have the basketball tradition of Duke or Kansas or Kentucky. Its last trip to the Final Four was in 1950. Just saying.
➜ 7. Don’t forget about the Dec. 12 game at Missouri. Can I take a look at the coin Andy Katz flipped? I totally trust him, but how about next time they have Underwood and Cuonzo Martin play Rock, Paper, Scissors? Or pick a number from one to 68?
➜ 8. The Illini basketball team benefits from something the football team didn’t get: nonconference games. Had football opened with its original schedule, it would be 4-3 right now instead of 1-3. Again, you can’t complain because of the pandemic.
➜ 9. Important to remember this will be the first season without legend Lou Henson. What a great thing to be reminded of him when we look at the court bearing his name at State Farm Center. Next ....
➜ 10. Might be a time for a Henson statue out front. Football has two. Why not one for basketball? I’m guessing George Lundeen is up for it.
➜ 11. That would make it easier to add a second statue in future years. Perhaps for the person that leads the school to its first national title.
➜ 12. I am always for athletes cashing in when the time is right. They have short windows to make a lot of money. So, I thought Ayo Dosunmu did the correct thing when he considered entering the NBA draft.
And I also think he made a smart choice when he decided to come back for his junior season. To me, all he can do is enhance his value. And there is something to be said for having the fandom be eternally grateful.
➜ 13. Oh yes, almost forgot, it will be great to have the Dosunmu family back in town for every game. They are friendly and enthusiastic. With the lack of crowds, they are going to be easy to hear on telecasts/radio broadcasts. Should be a lot of fun.
➜ 14. It will be nice to see Scott Nagy back in town with Wright State next week. He did a fantastic job at South Dakota State (or is it South Dakota? I get those two mixed up.) With Nagy in charge, the Raiders will be a constant threat to make the NCAA tournament and a tough out once they get there. And don’t forget to pay attention to Champaign Central graduate Tim Finke. The younger brother of former Illini Michael Finke is about to start his first season at Wright State.
➜ 15. Given a choice of MAC opponents the first week, I would have gone with Akron, led by former Illinois coach John Groce. Maybe next time.
➜ 16. I can’t wait to see Kofi Cockburn 2.0. Again, it was a good idea for him to test the pro waters, but even better to return to school. If he dominates this season as I suspect he will, Cockburn won’t be back as a junior.
➜ 17. Twenty conference games is perfect. Combined with the brief nonconference schedule, it will give the NCAA selection committee more than enough information. Tiny beef: Only one Illinois-Iowa matchup is unfortunate.
➜ 18. My guess today is that at least 10 Big Ten schools make the 68-team field. Illinois will earn its best seed since 2005.
➜ 19. I am really looking forward to seeing Jacob Grandison and Austin Hutcherson get back on the court. Sitting out as transfers is no fun. Now comes the payoff.
➜ 20. Oh my goodness, I haven’t even mentioned the freshmen. Seems like I have been reading about Andre Curbelo and Adam Miller for about 10 years. Finally get to see what all the fuss is about. Fortunately, they have veterans willing to show them the way. If they are as good as advertised, Underwood might be contending in the Big Ten for years.